Why Does the Media Suck So Badly at Describing Physical Attacks?

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The next time you see something in the news where:

1) Someone inflicted physical harm on someone else

2) The attack involved a hand-to-hand attack (with a weapon or bare hands)

3) Video exists of this attack

…pay close attention to the language used to describe what happened, then compare it to what actually happens in the video.

Chances are fairly high that the journalist’s description will suck horribly, and consist of vague, half-assed, even factually wrong language, even when the video is right there for everyone to see.

Did the incident involve a knife attack? If so, the injuries will always be described as “stabbings”, regardless of whether anyone was actually “stabbed”. I remember one article which described someone who had supposedly been “stabbed in the head”, yet the injury was described as “not life-threatening” (in other words, the victim was not “stabbed”). Then there was the “mass stabbing” at Lone Star College, which was certainly a horrific incident but did not actually involve anyone being “stabbed” (the knife was a razor, which literally cannot be used to “stab”).

It’s even worse when the incident involves an attacker using bare hands/feet, particularly from a law enforcement officer. In such cases, chances are that the description will consist of weak and imprecise language which effectively downplays the severity of the attack, and even potentially obscures the intent of the attacker.

Take the recent case of the Columbus police officer who committed blatant brutality when he stomped a stationary, handcuffed, and defenseless victim in the face, directly into the road. Countless media reports described it as “kick”, not only making it sound far less serious than it was, but even making it sound like a potential accident (which a “stomp” cannot possibly be).

And this certainly wasn’t an anomaly. Just days later, video emerged of a virtually identical incident in Georgia, with virtually identical results.

Or take the example of the David Dao, the victim in the United Airlines case. Countless articles described him “hitting an armrest” (or similar such language), which doesn’t even begin to convey how hard his face was smashed into the armrest, doesn’t begin to convey the severity of the injuries he sustained (a concussion, facial laceration, broken facial bones, lost teeth) and also leaves open the possibility that the contact was incidental, unintentional, or even potentially self-inflicted (remember when the police initially claimed he “fell” and “subsequently struck an armrest”?) Some of the early reports inexplicably failed to even mention him hitting the armrest at all, even with the video right there.

Or consider one of most blatant cases in recent memory, when an Alabama cop used a martial arts-style trip-takedown to slam an elderly (and innocent) man with full force into the ground, thereby inflicting permanent paralysis. How was this described in many (maybe even most) of the media reports? That the police officer “threw him to the ground”.

Pathetic.

So why do they do this? This seems to be such a chronic problem that I have a hard time attributing it to just plain incompetence or bad writing (if anything, I usually see this in articles that are otherwise well-written). Is it due to ideological bias, in an attempt to minimize the culpability of the attackers? Maybe in some cases, but doubtful in most; even liberal/progressive media sources (such as the Salon.com link above) are guilty of this.

The most likely explanation seems to be that these journalists are so afraid that the use of accurate and truthful language would come across as “editorializing” and make it seem that they’re not being objective/impartial in their reporting, so they resort to using these mealy mouthed, vague descriptions instead, in an attempt to appear “neutral”.

Which gets into a larger point, i.e. the media’s tendency to not understand the difference between being legitimately unbiased/impartial and adopting a forced “faux-neutrality” which tries so hard to be “neutral” that they’re afraid to even describe what actually happened, even when it’s a simple statement of objective fact (to describe what the Georgia and Columbus cops did as a “stomp” is not even a matter of subjective debate; it’s simply what they did, by definition).

And by doing this, these journalists are truly doing a disservice to their readership by failing to remain truthful and accurate in their reporting, even to the point that by trying so hard to avoid the appearance of bias they’re actually choosing dishonesty instead.

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Sacrificing One’s Soul

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“I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin… I’m a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.” –The Operative, Serenity 

What if you sacrifice your soul—by condemning yourself to Hell—in order to save other people from going to Hell?

It’s a nearly universal truth—held by the religious and non-religious alike—that to willingly sacrifice your life to save the lives of others is commendable, even possibly the greatest of all moral acts. But I can’t say I’ve ever heard the same logic applied with regard to Hell.

Consider if someone subjects themselves not just to death, but to an eternity of torture in order to save others from meeting that same fate. Isn’t that at least equally commendable as someone sacrificing their life? Perhaps even infinitely more commendable, considering that Hell is infinitely worse than death? (One obvious question is whether a “just” God would even send someone to Hell for doing so, but for purposes of this discussion let’s assume he would).

In my last post I discussed how the absurd premises of Heaven and Hell—as traditionally understood—lead to equally absurd conclusions when taken to their logical conclusions, and essentially lead to the inescapable conclusion that the ends ALWAYS justify the means when it comes to “saving souls”. And infinitely so, meaning that ANY act, no matter how evil, is perfectly justified—even morally obligatory—if it saves just one person from Hell.

Of course, the obvious counterargument would be that God wouldn’t WANT us to lie, kill, steal, etc. in order to “serve him”, even if the goal is to save souls. After all, how can someone specifically violate what is forbidden by God in order to serve God? Well, this is exactly why.

Let’s say God disapproves of you doing so, and punishes you with Hell (perhaps even a special level of Hell). That doesn’t change the inescapable reality one iota that you are still doing an infinitely greater good by disobeying God, providing that doing so results in even one soul being saved. Which means that lying for Jesus, or even The Inquisition, are logically justified and perfectly rational given those initial premises of traditional Christianity.

But just as you’ll never hear a follower of traditional religious systems admit to it, I’ve never heard anyone describe the notion of “sacrificing ones soul” as being commendable, much less on par with the sacrificing of one’s life to save others.

And this isn’t a purely theoretical exercise with no real-world implications. Thankfully, as is the case with almost any religious doctrine whereby virtually nobody takes them as seriously as they should if they truly believe them, virtually nobody takes the infinite nature of Heaven and  Hell to its logical conclusion and operates according to the logic I’ve outlined above, and thankfully so.

But some do.

Consider Christian terrorists and their attacks on (even murders of) abortion providers and those affiliated (or in some cases, simply present at) them. These murderers rationalize their acts to be the morally justifiable saving lives of “children being murdered”, and fully sanctioned by their God. Or, as in one recent case, they can use their belief in “once saved always saved” to ensure they’re still going to Heaven regardless of whether the murders were wrong.

Either way, their fate in Heaven is fully assured.

The same goes for Islamic terrorists, who rather than going to Hell for murdering innocent people, claim they will actually be rewarded in the afterlife for it.

At the top of the page I quoted the movie Serenity because of its incredibly rare example–in fiction or in reality–of someone admitting to committing evil in order to serve a greater good (without that evil somehow “becoming” good). It’s about as clear cut an admission of willingly “sacrificing one’s soul” as you will ever see, as opposed to those who typically try to rationalize and justify the evils they commit, thereby rendering them no longer “evil”.

Unfortunately, in the real world, I have yet to see anyone being so honest about this gaping flaw in their theological beliefs.